Adobe’s evolved performance management program is aptly named the Check-in. Think about the feelings the name evokes, especially compared to its predecessor, the performance review. The check-in is lightweight, friendly and informal. A performance review is evaluative and impersonal — going directly against the concept of psychological safety needed to hear feedback.

The following video shows how hearing feedback from a manager causes fight or flight brain patterns like being chased by a lion.

Some 58% of executives do not believe their current performance management accomplishes what it is meant to do. As HR leaders look for new options, the employee performance check-in is emerging as a leading format.

Why Performance Check-Ins

Businesses already run quarterly check-ins to stay on track. The format emerged along with evolving business objectives and the need for a more frequent review. But the impact is not limited to businesses. Each department and each employee can look at their responsibilities as a miniature business, complete with objectives and a bottom line.

Frequency of Check-Ins

The quarter is a natural time to look at accomplishments and either affirm or change goals. For departments that don’t run on quarters — for example, many engineering departments run on six-week sprints — they can modify the structure and length of time associated with check-ins.

Adobe does not require check-ins to follow specific time frame, but allows the process to be fully manager-driven.

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Some will say that quarterly is not frequent enough. A good management habit is to hold weekly one-on-ones which keep feedback dialogue (constructive and positive recognition) going and contribute to a feedback culture. Does a weekly one-on-one make a quarterly check-in superfluous? Not at all! The quarterly check-in gives managers and employees a chance to have a structured conversation: tie up loose ends, archive goals that are no longer relevant, and plan for the future.

Simple Template for an Effective Check-In

A performance check-in should be forward-facing, not evaluative. The goal of the manager is to act as a coach, and surface learning opportunities and identify areas for improvement. The missed opportunity for many managers, though, is the chance to highlight what the employee has done well. Affirming good performance results in repeat performance, so to optimize an employee’s contributions, managers should look to recognize their best work.

The following questions have been found effective in facilitating quarterly conversations between managers and employees.

  • What did you accomplish this quarter? (List top 5-10 accomplishments)
  • What 3-5 goals will you focus on next quarter?
  • How can you improve?
  • How are you embracing the company values? (Please provide specific examples.)